Sunday, March 27, 2011

Little Brother by Cory Doctorow

Title: Little Brother
Author: Cory Doctorow
Series: -
Published: April 29, 2008
Publisher: Tor Books
Pages: 382 (hardcover)
This book was purchased.

Marcus, aka “w1n5t0n,” is only seventeen years old, but he figures he already knows how the system works—and how to work the system. Smart, fast, and wise to the ways of the networked world, he has no trouble outwitting his high school’s intrusive but clumsy surveillance systems.

But his whole world changes when, having skipped school, he and his friends find themselves caught in the aftermath of a major terrorist attack on San Francisco. In the wrong place at the wrong time, Marcus and his crew are apprehended by the Department of Homeland Security and whisked away to a secret prison, where they’re mercilessly interrogated for days.

When the DHS finally releases them, Marcus discovers that his city has become a police state, where every citizen is treated like a potential terrorist. He knows that no one will believe his story, which leaves him only one option: to take down the DHS himself.

Can one teenage hacker fight back against a government out of control? Maybe, but only if he’s really careful…and very, very, smart. –Little Brother dust jacket


I think there is a hands-down consensus that books have power. The ones worth reading entertain you. The ones really worth reading force you to think not only about the lives of the characters, but about your own life and the conditions of which you live it. They have the power to move generations, to start revolutions. That's why parents challenge them. That's why governments ban them. That's exactly why they're timeless. To me, Little Brother was one of those books. Cory Doctorow has followed in the footsteps of the greatest dystopian writers to bring us the contemporary version of 1984, but with a lesson that all of those growing up in this day and age can take to heart.

At its core, Little Brother is a book about defining yourself and finding the strength to stand up for up for what you believe in. Marcus, the main character, believes in the freedoms of the United States' Constitution. He believes that giving up one's rights to ensure the "security of our safety" is wrong, especially when the government uses those rights to punish those that it's trying to protect. He was an incredibly intelligent young man, with a sort of paranoid optimism that I quickly came to admire. I never stopped to think, "Hey, wait a does he know all this stuff about hacking?" I just accepted it without a second thought because even though Marcus is smart, there were parts in the book where he really lacked perspective. These parts reminded me that Marcus isn't uncharacteristically mature for his age, making him more believable. Overall, I think Doctorow did a great job accurately portraying a teenager without patronizing the age group, and was one of the reasons why I believed everything about the world of Little Brother.

However, even though the plot and characters were great, I think the most interesting aspect about this book was the amount of technical jargon in it. It had a lot, and even though I wasn't familiar with all of it, it didn't bother me because Doctorow explained everything even remotely scientific with simple, easy to understand descriptions and current references (for example, Xbox comes up a lot). I think that was part of the reason why it was so easy to see this story taking place now, even though a specific date isn’t mentioned (we only know that it takes place after 9/11). To be honest, I came away from this book a hellufalot smarter than I was before. I think classes dealing with the future of technology, media, security systems, or communications would do well by making this book part of their reading curriculum. I mean, really--who ever said textbooks can’t be fun? I’d certainly prefer to read this than any manual, especially when I can get the same information. Doctorow even takes his lessons one step further by providing a list of books that the reader can pick up if they want to explore the topics of hacking and civil rights.

Though this book may come off as a little preachy or heavy handed in it's political agenda, it's still worth giving a shot--especially if you're into digital dystopias or literature saturated with tech-geek speak. In fact, if you are interested in reading it, you can visit Doctorow's website to download a copy for free. I highly recommend it. Little Brother has changed the way I think (especially when it comes to the ways that things don't work) and as a result, is probably one of the best books I've read, ever.